When a scientific theory is proven false, often you’ll find anti-science zealots claiming the findings as proof that science is fallible and thus wrong. That’s the thing about scientific study, it’s in the discovery of wrongness that we expand our knowledge. There are countless scientific theories that we can look back on now, with contemporary knowledge, and call them ridiculous. Even the most quaint and insanely wrong scientific theory bore out an expansion in our knowledge.
Despite many of these theories being lost to the aether (another theory that was proven to be wrong) there are a few that are remarkable because of who put them forth. The following are some of science’s biggest contributors, and their blunders. I’ve chosen three ancient scientists/philosophers who had theories which lasted for well over a millenia. But scientific inaccuracies aren’t just for the ancients, even modern man makes mistakes. Would you believe that one of the greatest minds of the 20th century was wrong? If you love science, then you should believe such a thing to be possible, and you should be excited by the prospect of such a person getting to experience being proven wrong.
Up until 2005, and even to this day according to a Wikipedia entry, it was believed that ulcers were most often caused by stress. We know now, thanks to the work of Barry J. Marshall and Robin Warren, that the bacteria Helicobacter pylori is the culprit that causes ulcers. Science is littered with these long held theories, as well as those that come and go quickly. Often it’s unclear who came up with a particular theory; this is often the case with scientific study from ancient times. You’re more likely to know, as a modern and intelligent person, the scientist responsible for the currently accepted theory.
Let’s get to the worst scientific theories by our most brilliant minds. We’ll start easy, because before there was Copernicus’ heliocentric solar system there was…
Claudius Ptolemy's Geocentric Theory Of The UniversePtolemy lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the late first century to the early second. There had been many models of the celestial bodies observed by man at the time, but it was Ptolemy who provided calculations using the Earth as the center of the universe that could predict accurately where celestial bodies would be. Simple observation of the sky proved this theory as any person could see that the sun, moon, stars, planets, et al were moving around the earth. Also, anyone who’s standing on the earth would feel like they are stationary.
The geocentric model was held, thanks to Ptolemy’s theories and calculations, for over 1300 years. The heliocentric model that would supercede it had been postulated hundreds of years before Ptolemy was born. Copernicus revitalized the heliocentric model, and proved that a geocentric model just didn’t make sense. Like all great science, and unlike Ptolemy’s theory, further work by scientists like Kepler and Galileo would further prove the heliocentric model correct.